Forgiving Ourselves for Not Being Perfect

For Jacob

The ancient church mothers and fathers name pride as the root sin; the sin, the feeling, the response, the emotion from which all other sins get their energy.  The sin of pride, that hubris that likes to feel superior to others, often at the expense of others' sense of self.  I'm not referring to self-esteem, that sense of self that doesn't need external measures, that sense that rests in God.  I'm referring to hubris, the pride that often reaches for externals to value self.  That pride tears other people, organizations, even countries down to build itself up.  That pride cannot sit with self-examination.  That pride can certainly keep us in a stilted relationship with ourselves and the Holy One.

That pride can also significantly inhibit our journey of forgiveness.  Several of our Dirty Sexy Ministry community have written about our posts on forgiveness, asking particularly about the work of forgiving ourselves.  After a time of reflecting and talking about our own journeys of forgiveness, some still ongoing, we keep coming back to pride.

Pride, we think, stops us from forgiving ourselves because pride refuses to allow us to recognize our own imperfection and our own complicity in the damage that led to the need for forgiveness.

Forgiveness exists, at least most commonly, because we have been hurt, disappointed, betrayed, or wounded by someone with whom we had some expectation of honorable relationship.  And our first reaction is usually anger:  I can't believe s/he said that about me; he seemed so nice when we talked on the phone, but what a complete dud he turned out to be; why did s/he act that way?  So we get angry, which is a fairly reasonable response to pain.  Anger (not of the seven deadly sin kind) will often get us out of bad situations or tell us we are in danger, so pay attention.

Then we blame and process, we wonder why, we hypothesize, we talk about the other person, dissecting her or his actions.  She must have father issues.  He's just a jerk and not good enough for you.  They aren't particularly helpful reasons, because we are essentially probing around in someone's soul instead of focusing on our own selves.  Sadly, this is where many people get stuck.  The blame-pride arena.  In this place, the entire hurtful episode is the fault completely of the the other.  We were innocent victims.  Caveat here:  sometimes, this may very well be true, but a quick test is to see if the injury in question has happened before.  If you've been betrayed, abandoned, or hurt in similar circumstances, God may be inviting you to more spiritual exploration about your place in the cycle.  

And pride begins to root its ugly tentacles.  Because pride refuses to engage in self-reflection.  Pride tells us we could never have had any part in this wrongdoing.  Pride invites us to gather external support as we share our story of hurt with as many people who will listen.  We may call it processing.  Others call it gossip.  Pride justifies our injury and invites us to bring it out again and again, while we exonerate ourselves.  Pride lets us feel self-assured in whatever overtures of forgiveness we have made that look pretty and tidy on the surface, but never really allow for the deep work of reconciliation.  Quite simply, pride is not interested in hearing about our personal responsibility; pride likes to blame our failures on the other.  

Yet forgiveness is about responsibility.  It is about responsibility of being hurt, of hurting another, and of seeing what impact the hurt may have on the future. The deep work of forgiveness is hard, and if we're courageous, we begin to explore how we contributed to the situation.  We begin to take responsibility for our actions.  Why did I go out with a guy when my gut screamed "no" from the get-go and who created a relationship Eminen could have sung about?  Why did I trust a person who spent most of the time together talking about others in a derogatory way?  Why did I think that my experience with that person/place/job/school/organization, would be different than others who told me of their hurtful time?

I don't advise doing this work alone.  God created us in community, so a trusted friend, spiritual director, or therapist will often be able to hold the mirror up in a gentle way, keeping us on the path of exploring our responsibility and off the path of hurtful blame.

Then, after some work, we get to the point of, "If I'd known then what I know now."  Of course!  But to learn what we know now about our own tendencies to fall into hurtful relationships, to "save" a troubled soul, to miss the signs of certain damaging people in our lives, or whatever the lesson in loving ourselves may be, we had to learn from experience.  We had to go through the experience, hurtful though it is.  We have to get the wounds, to let the scars heal, and to learn.

We all make mistakes.  I've couched them (in my most aware moments) that for whatever reason, I needed to make that hurtful mistake, engage in that hurtful relationship, or act in that hurtful way at that time.  I hope I don't do it again.

When I've done this work, when I've found that wisdom that - unfortunately - only scars seem to bring, and when I've sent pride packing on the forgiveness journey, I realize that I'm not above mistakes or bad calls with people or situations.  Pride will tell us we are above errors in judgment, that we would never engage in hurtful relationships unless we'd be duped, that we are just that perfect.  Love reminds us that we make mistakes, that we often find ourselves wandering in the desert because we need to learn something about our very selves and souls, and that we are gloriously flawed.  And loved anyway.

Somewhere in this journey, we realize that the people we usually need to forgive the most are ourselves, if for no other reason than to forgive ourselves for not being perfect, for making mistakes, and for messing things up.

An we remember, for whatever reason, that is where we needed to be at that time.  We hope we're wiser, and we go forward with our newly found wisdom of self.  We hope we don't repeat that error.  Maybe we won't.  Maybe we will.

And the journey of forgiveness continues.


Unknown said…
Amen! Words I most needed today.
ToilNotSpin said…
This is beautiful, and like Mother Julie, something I needed to hear today. And although this is about our forgiving ourselves, I would like to ask your forgiveness for my unkind words about the Bishop you love. At the moment I wrote it, I wished it unwritten---I love both of you and this blog, and I criticized someone who meant a great deal to you because I was dealing with some personal issues.

There should be a way to shut down the "send" button when a person is in pain and out of medication temporarily. And by the way, your cheese straws recipes are slightly, maybe, a little better than mine.....

Bless you from one of your most flawed but appreciative readers
revlauriebrock said…
To ToilNotSpin - no worries. If we can't be where we are, then what value is the journey that moves us onward and upward? +Gene would be the first to admit he is not perfect. Bless you.

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